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General News    H2'ed 8/7/10

Suspected Torturer Gets Key Police Job in Jerusalem; Doron Zahavi Accused of Running Israel's Abu Ghraib

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A police officer known as "Major George" who is accused of torturing Arab prisoners in his previous role as chief interrogator in a secret military jail has been appointed to oversee relations with Jerusalem's Palestinian population, it has emerged.

The decision has been greeted with stunned disbelief from human rights groups, who say unresolved allegations against Major George that he brutally abused Arab prisoners for many years should disqualify him from such a sensitive post.

Relations between the Israeli police and the 250,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have been on a knife edge for many months, as extremist Jewish groups -- backed by the municipality -- have increased their settlement drive in traditional Palestinian neighbourhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.

The Association of Civil Rights in Israel (Acri), Israel's largest legal rights group, revealed last week that it had made a formal complaint in February about Major George, whose real name is Doron Zahavi.

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Acri said he had threatened to demolish the home of a Palestinian community activist in Silwan for leading protests against a settler takeover of Palestinian homes in the area. During what police described as a "getting to know each other session", pressure was also put on Jawad Siyam to become an informant.

Zahavi, however, first earnt notoriety in Unit 504, a special wing of military intelligence, that oversaw the interrogation of foreign Arab nationals held in the secret prison, known as Facility 1391. Israel claims to have closed the jail following its exposure in 2003.

A Lebanese militia leader, Mustafa Dirani, who was held in Facility 1391 for many years, alleged in an Israeli court in 2004 that Zahavi repeatedly tortured him, including by sodomising him with a baton.

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The civil suit for $1.5 million damages was never settled because Israel released Dirani in a prisoner swap before the court had issued a ruling. The judge has denied Zahavi's subsequent requests to close the case.

Although Zahavi has denied the main charges, he has admitted interrogating prisoners while they were naked and that he ordered one of his officers to undress in Dirani's cell and threaten to sexually assault him.

Several of Unit 504's interrogators later corroborated Dirani's claims, revealing that they routinely used the torture techniques he had described.

The case has attracted comparisons with Abu Ghraib, the prison in Iraq where US soldiers sexually abused Iraqi inmates.

Dalia Kerstein, director of Hamoked, an Israeli human rights group that helped to expose Facility 1391, called Zahavi's appointment "appalling".

She said the security services had a history of appointing officials who acted violently towards Palestinians to sensitive posts. The authorities' logic, she said, appeared to be that "these people know how to deal with the Arabs because they can speak the language of violence."

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Zahavi's new role as adviser on Arab affairs to Jerusalem's police chief, Aharon Franco, is one of the key roles in the Jersualem force. Zahavi is supposed to act as the main channel between Palestinian residents and the police.

According to the job description, the adviser "must be an accepted and welcome figure in the Arab community, with excellent interpersonal skills."

Melanie Takefman, a spokeswoman for Acri, said it was hard to see how Zahavi could fill such a post. "The problem in Jerusalem is that the police relate almost exclusively to the Palestinians as suspects and do not enforce the law equitably."

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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